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Hu Warns Of Corruption As China's 18th Party Congress Opens


BEIJING - The 18th Chinese Communist Party Congress, which is slated to elect  China’s new leaders for the next 10 years, opened on Thursday with a forceful speech by the country's outgoing leader.

President Hu Jintao discussed most of the thorny issues facing the country in his opening discourse, which was broadcast across the country, reports the BBC.  But his most awaited remarks concerned corruption. Hu warned that if the surge in corruption was not contained, it could be "fatal" to the party and cause the "fall of the state."

Hu also promised China that economic growth would continue, at a rate he predicted at 7% a year, while per capita income would double by 2020. These are bold numbers, even for China,  at a time when the rest of the world economy is sluggish or deteriorating.

Also on his agenda was the urban/rural divide, which has led to a disquieting inequality in China, which has more than 100 billionaires, but where a large population of peasants still subsists on less than $2 a day.

Hu asked for good relations with Taiwan, yet warned that independence is not possible for the island. He also said that China was developing into a maritime power to protect its waters.

The choice of top leaders, the premier and the Party Secretary—who is head of state--is a foregone conclusion. Still, the ceremony is important for the Chinese government to show off its orderly transition from one leader to another, which is still a relative novelty in China’s turbulent history. Representatives have come from around the country to Beijing to meet in the Great Hall of the People.

Nouvel Observateur explains the exact order of proceedings. “2270 delegates will ‘elect’ the members of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee, about 200 people. They in turn will ‘elect’ the 25 members of the Politburo, who then designate the seven or nine members of the Permanent Committee, the supreme body of the Chinese government, including the next head of state, Xi Jinping, and the next premier, Li Keqiang.”

(Xi Jingping)

Leaders had originally planned to call for the 18th Congress to meet in October, explains Les Echos, with Sichuan provincial chief Bo Xilai pegged to head the next Chinese government. But in February, his police chief fled to the American consulate in a different city, in fear for his life, and scandal broke out over the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood and its subsequent cover-up.  Bo’s wife was given a suspended death sentence for the murder, while Bo, who has not yet been tried, was removed from his position and has now been expelled from the Communist party, effectively ending his career in government.

Xi Jinping, his rival for the top leadership, has benefited from Bo’s disgrace. The two also represented the neo-Maoist (Bo) and moderate (Xi) factions in the party. Both men are “princelings,” or sons of early revolutionary leaders, Mao’s comrades. The Bo Xilai affair turned up large-scale unexplained wealth in the hands of his family and publicly humiliated the Chinese Communist Party, which was forced to postpone the 18th Congress in disarray. 

The nickname for the Congress in Chinese is shi-ba-da, or “18 great.” The people of Beijing, or at least its internet users, have picked up the name, reports English-language site Tealeaf Nation. But there is an undercurrent of anxiety on the side of the people as well on the side of the leadership. Kitchen knives are not for sale this week in Beijing, while taxi drivers have reported that their windows’ handles have been removed by police, reports the China Digital Times.

A well-known Tibetan blogger, Woeser, was not allowed to return to her home in Beijing. Four Tibetans killed themselves by fire in protests the day before the Congress opened, reports the South China Morning Post. The party fears any popular uprising which could call attention to its lack of real democracy. But more than anything else, it fears a return to the murderous chaos that its current generation of leaders experienced as youth during the Cultural Revolution.

Below: A Chinese Twitterer jokes that telemarketers hang up quickly when told you are at the Great Hall of the People, where “Sparta” is being held.

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